We get to the gate to exit the station and put our tickets in the machine. At that moment, a loud buzz goes off and the gates shut in front of us—and our unknown companion, who had already passed through, stopped.
After the night before (13 hours of glorious sleep) we woke up early and, well, really hungry. We had slept right through dinner. And without eating very much at all the day before, we were eager for some breakfast. We told ourselves we would avoid the hotel breakfasts due to the high price per person. But this morning it was the quickest way to get an unlimited portion of food. We figured we were combining last night’s dinner and this morning’s breakfast.
The breakfast buffet was on the 51st floor—the very top—and named the “Sky Lounge”. Very exciting. We got ready (we put on our sweatpants) and, as soon as it opened (we got up pretty early), we took the elevator up 20 plus floors to the top.
We pay our entry and enter the lounge. We walk in and our faces just light up. By this point our energy is full and our stomach is empty. The food was all in the center and elevated while there were tables and couch-like booths on the outer ring. Besides the food, the coolest part of the large room was the panoramic view of the city. The walls were windows and the hotel was situated in the heart of Osaka. The buffet offered a wide selection of Japanese and Western-style cuisine. We filled our plates, found a table by the window, and, for the next hour, enjoyed a breakfast consisting of everything from eggs and french toast to grilled fish and rice with red bean paste, supplemented with fruits, yogurt, granola, some more things I didn’t know what they were, and coffee. It was splendid. The view was great, the conversation was great, the morning was great.
That day the only real activities we had planned was the Museum of Housing and Living and the giant Ferris Wheel at Tempozan Harbor. The rest of the day we decided to fill in as we go.
The Museum of Housing and Living was a quick but amusing experience. The top floor was a full rendition of a traditional Japanese village in the Edo Period. Two “streets” divided the room, each fenced in with traditional-looking shops and homes that were common in Edo-style villages. Amelia got a chance to find her element in a Japanese home. The room even had a circular IMAX screen for a ceiling that mimicked days and nights about every 30 minutes. The lights would dim to simulate dusk, a moon coupled with stars would rise and the village would light up.
We got on a subway and headed to Tempozan Harbor. By now we are getting the hang of traveling around Osaka and almost look like we know what we are doing. There was a girl on the train, barely twenty years old, with blond hair and clearly from the Western part of the world. Now even though Osaka was a major city in Japan, there still weren’t as many Westerners as we originally thought. They were there, but scattered. With that being said, for the times you see one, you usually catch each other’s eye pretty easily; nevertheless, I picked up that this young girl seemed more interested in us than normal. We ride a few stops before we get off. The girl gets off too. She’s walking in front of us but, unless I am mistaken, being careful not to let too much distance get between her and us. We get to the gate to exit the station and put our tickets in the machine (for local subways and trains such as this one, our all-inclusive JR pass didn’t cover it so we had to purchase tickets, which were fairly cheap). At that moment, a loud buzz goes off and the gates shut in front of us—and our unknown companion, who had already passed through, stopped.
Confused and trapped, we look around as if this is our first time in a subway station. We had gotten comfortable with the trains but the local subways were a different beast. What we didn’t know was how to price each ticket depending on where your final destination was. Well all we had to do was go to the ticket adjuster machine and pay the difference—but we didn’t know that at this time. Still standing where the gate doors shut, the rail attendant was trying the best he could to convey to us how to adjust our ticket. Finally we get the memo and we adjust the tickets, pay the difference, and successfully exit.
The girl, who is still perhaps waiting for us to come? Still unsure. We pass her and begin following the rest of the exit path that will lead us outside. As soon as we pass her, she continues her exit as well. Now Amelia and I look at each other, still walking with the Westerner keeping a healthy distance behind us, and are pretty sure that she is, for whatever reason, following us.
The subway ride takes about 40 minutes and drops us off a few miles from where the harbor meets the water. The drop off location does not give a clear picture of which direction the water is in, which is where the Ferris Wheel is, so we stop for a moment to pull up maps; and, as anticipated, the girl stops too (now in front of us). Now we are really curious and I begin to approach her when the maps loaded and we saw which way we needed to go. We begin walking a little and as if there was an invisible rope attaching us to her she follows behind. We reach the intersection, stop to get our barrens, and finally she approaches.
It’s funny. It wasn’t like this conversation was out of the ordinary in any way, it was really just the leading up to it. When she finally approached, in a very shy, soft tone she asked us, honestly, if we knew where we were going. We kindly told her and, wouldn’t you know, she points us in the other direction and says, “I believe it’s thataway.” We thanked her and Amelia then did what she does best—she makes the stranger feel like a friend. We find out she was there studying and had been there for about 9 months. She lived around this area. She was very sweet and had a shyness about her that didn’t depart even after she began opening up to us. I think maybe she saw a couple of white folk and needed a little conversation just as much as we needed a little direction. Regardless, we thanked her again and went our separate ways.
It only took about 20 minutes on foot to reach the Ferris Wheel and the harbor that resides in its shadow. The Ferris Wheel was even more massive than we had thought! It dominated over every other building in the vicinity.
When we got to the entrance we decided to first go to a café across the street. Kuma Kafe, I have to say, was a great call. It was owned by an Australian so it was nice to be welcomed in a native English accent. We found a seat next to a window that looked on to the Ferris Wheel. The atmosphere was great in this place. The Australian, Paul, had a warm demeanor to him that was very welcoming and friendly. He said he came to Japan for one year and that was 16 years ago. We ended up nesting in this café for over an hour—the food was great, the coffee was tasty, and Amelia and I enjoyed the rest. This happens to be one of my travel tips: When walking around a lot, especially in a town or metropolis, take time to hit up a cafe for coffee or a refreshment. Don’t be so scared you won’t have time to complete all of your planned activities that you rush around without stopping. Take a period to sit down and recuperate and it will make your experience so much better.
Time for the Ferris Wheel. This was once the largest in the world but, over the last decade, several cities have topped it. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly massive. We approach the entrance, go up a few flights of stairs, pay our fee and wait our turn to enter the enclosed carriage. Once inside, the wheel turns slowly and begins to raise us up above the city skyline.
It was late in the afternoon so the sun was about to set. It took almost 10 minutes for us to reach the peak. The views were astounding! A river found its home next to the wheel and weaved itself through the city adding a great ambiance to our visibility. Unique bridges, parks, and buildings of all sizes created the organism that is Osaka.
While on the wheel, we spotted what looked like a ferry drop-off location on the other side of a small park that was within walking distance. We waited at the small harbor after seeing a schedule showing the ferry should depart in the next 10 minutes. No one else was around but Japan was a country that rarely deviated from their schedules so we confidently wait. About a minute before the scheduled departure time, the door on the second floor of the wooden cabin beside us swings open and three men hastily descend the stairs. They enter the boat and signal us to come on board.
The ride was only about 15 minutes to the other side but it was nice and peaceful. Standing room only, Amelia and I enjoy the views and the open sea as the sun was subtly making its last shine. The ferry drops us off and we make our way to the nearest train station to take us back home.
We found a place called Shinseki on the web for one of the places to see while in Osaka. It was basically just a district in the city that offered some shops, restaurants, an observation tower, and supposedly a great local feel within the modern city. We decided to check it out for dinner. After getting off the train, it was a solid 25+ minute walk in the frigid city and, honestly, wasn’t really that worth it. Shinsakai did have a local feel to it but pretty much nothing was open, including the observation tower, and we were one of the only people around. We did find a nice sushi place right before it was closing and the food was unsurprisingly satisfying. We headed back home after a short visit and went to sleep. The next day we were traveling to Kyoto and I was very excited. Kyoto just seemed like it had a lot to offer and was loaded with the type of history and secrets that attracted me to a place like Japan; and looking back, I have to say, it delivered exceedingly pass my expectations.
Part 3 coming soon